What better place is there to admire the beauty of butterflies then in your own backyard? Whether you have a small patio or acres of property, with a little planning you can soon be attracting familiar butterflies like monarchs and zebra swallowtails to your garden. Butterfly gardening is a great way to get exercise, reduce stress, learn about the environment, and beautify your home. Best of all, butterfly gardening can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.
Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden
Regardless of how simple or complex you decide to make your butterfly garden, the most important step is selecting the right plants. There are two types of plants that will attract butterflies to your garden, nectar plants and host plants. Nectar plants provide a source of food for adult butterflies and host plants provide a place for adult butterflies to lay eggs. When butterfly caterpillars hatch from the eggs the host plant will also take on the role of being the caterpillar’s food source.
In Florida, there are more than 180 species of butterflies. Each species of butterfly has their own nectar and host plant requirements. To attract multiple species of butterflies, you will want to grow an assortment of flowering plants and shrubs appropriate for the butterflies living in your area. Try to choose plants and shrubs that have different shape, size, and color flowers. Also you will want to choose plants and shrubs that flower at different times of the year so that your garden will attract butterflies spring, summer, and fall.
There are many good internet resources that deal specifically with Florida butterfly gardening, and they will help you decide which nectar plants and host plants are right for your area. Below are a list of common annuals, perennials, and shrubs found in Florida butterfly gardens that are available at most retail nurseries.
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)
Tropical Sage (Salvia)
Designing Your Butterfly Garden
When designing your new butterfly garden you will want to think about what type of garden you would like to create. If you would like to create a butterfly habitat that supports each stage of a butterfly’s life cycle, you will want to include a mixed variety of both nectar and host plants. You will also want to supply a source of shelter for the butterflies, which can be as simple as putting in a few woody plants. Citrus trees are a good choice if you live in central or south Florida, because in addition to serving as a source of shelter, citrus trees also serve as a host plant for giant swallowtail butterflies. Plus you get the benefit of having some tasty oranges or grapefruits.
Other important elements of a well designed butterfly habitat include having a source of moisture, being located in an area that receives plenty of sun, and being located in an area that is protected from strong winds. Keep in mind that butterflies cannot drink water directly; therefore it is important that you provide an area of wet sand or soil so the butterflies can get needed moisture.
A well designed butterfly habitat can be complex and requires a substantial amount of research. If you were thinking of something simpler, you can begin by planting an assortment of nectar plants. Over time, as you become more knowledgeable you can develop your butterfly garden into a butterfly habitat.
A Few Other Butterfly Garden Considerations
In addition to selecting the right plants for your butterfly garden, there are a few other considerations. First your plants will only attract butterflies if your plants are healthy and well maintained. Check the water, fertilizer and sunlight requirements of each of your plants to see where they will do best in your yard. Second, avoid the use of pesticides on your plants. This defeats the purpose of attracting butterflies. If you come out to check your garden and see the leaves on some of your plants nibbled away by butterfly caterpillars, know your habitat is doing well. Third, think about going native. Many native plants are not available at chain store nurseries, and can be difficult to find, but well worth the trouble.
Native plants require less water when established, are adapted to Florida’s soil and climate, and generally require very little maintenance. If you do not have a lot of time to spend in the garden but love the idea of attracting butterflies putting in native plants is the way to go. To find a native plant nursery in your area you can contact your county extension service or look at the following website.
Florida Butterfly Gardening Resources
Whether you start with a few containers on a patio, or go all out and create a well designed butterfly habitat, butterfly gardening can be a fun and educational way to landscape your property. The following websites will provide more detailed information for the aspiring Florida butterfly gardener.
Danials, J. C., J. Schaefer, C. N. Huegel and F. J. Mazzotti
2008 Butterfly Gardening in Florida. University of Florida IFAS Extension.